Kanishka Bombing, the Deadliest Air Attack Before 9/11

On 23 June, 34 years ago, a bomb exploded mid-air on the Air India Kanishka plane, killing all 329 people on board.

Updated23 Jun 2020, 07:15 AM IST
India
2 min read

On 23 June 1985, a bomb on Air India Flight 182 Kanishk brought the Boeing 747 down off the coast of Ireland killing all 329 aboard. To mark the anniversary of the tragic bombing, The Quint is reposting this story from its archives.

When Terror Struck the Skies

The ill-fated plane: Air India’s Flight 182 named Kanishka.

On June 23, 1985, Kanishka, a Boeing 747 aircraft, took off from Montreal, Canada for Delhi via London. It never made it. Four hours after takeoff, a bomb ripped through the baggage compartment and the plane disintegrated at 31,000 feet, into the Atlantic Ocean. There were no survivors. All 329 people on board were killed.

Kanishka Bombing, the Deadliest Air Attack Before 9/11
(Photo: The Quint)

Of the victims, 268 were Canadian citizens, mostly of Indian origin and another 24 were Indians. Today is the 30th anniversary of the shocking Kanishka bombing.

The Sikh separatist group Babbar Khalsa was said to be behind the blast, in retaliation to Operation Blue Star of June 1984.

Officers, Irish sailors, and rescue workers look on as the 329 victims of the Air India jet are lined up on the docks in Cork, Ireland on 24 June 1985. 
Officers, Irish sailors, and rescue workers look on as the 329 victims of the Air India jet are lined up on the docks in Cork, Ireland on 24 June 1985. 
(Photo: Reuters) 

Justice, Too Little, Too Late

Victims of the Air India jumbo jet which crashed 150 miles off the coast of Cork, Ireland at the Cork Regional Hospital on 24 June 1985. 
Victims of the Air India jumbo jet which crashed 150 miles off the coast of Cork, Ireland at the Cork Regional Hospital on 24 June 1985. 
(Photo: Reuters)

The investigation and prosecution took 20 years.

The only man jailed for his role in the attack was Inderjit Singh Reyat, initially jailed in connection with a second bomb on an Air India plane in which two baggage handlers in Tokyo’s Narita airport were killed the same day. Two others, Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Malik, were charged but later acquitted in 2005.

25 years after the tragedy, the Canadian government apologised for the handling of the investigation.

Flawed Skies

On the day of the bombing, all police dogs and their handlers from the canine bomb sniffing unit were absent from Canadian airports since they were at a training session in Vancouver.

The cargo X-rayed equipment also broke down at Toronto airport that day after only part of the checked luggage was screened. The bomb was placed in an unaccompanied brown Samsonite bag sent from Vancouver but neither Transport Canada nor Air India were prepared for the possibility of an unaccompanied bag containing a bomb. This was, after all the first air terror attack before 9/11.

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Published: 23 Jun 2015, 11:42 AM IST
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